Top Tips to Brighten Up the Town

Broughshane 2011Preparations for the ‘Best Kept’ Awards are already well underway in many of the new super council districts. Entries from both local community groups and private residential committees mean that 2015 will be another superb display of Northern Ireland’s ‘best kept’ towns, villages and residential areas and the competition will be keen!

Most of you will be working to a tight budget and with this in mind we thought we’d lend a hand and share a few top tips on how to impress our judges with your gardening skills.

Sometimes all an area needs is a touch of colour! Here are a few tips on what our judges are looking for when viewing flowers in urban settings;

• The planting container must be in proportion to its situation and adjacent to any street furniture.
• Take a look at the colours used on buildings in the surrounding area and select flowers, which will tie in, both in terms of colour and height with the area’s natural landscape. This should immediately brighten up the area.
• Once planted, make sure you keep the flowers sufficiently fed, watered and deadheaded. Also, take care that they aren’t too much in the shade or too exposed to the elements if they are delicate plants.
• Lastly, keep the area free from weeds and ensure grass verges/hedges are kept trim.

To volunteer with your local community group and get involved in the Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ Awards contact us on 028 9040 3681.

Good luck!

How to Make Sure Your Health Facility Receives a Clean Bill of Health from Our Judges

Our final 2015 Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ Awards deadline is fast approaching (Friday 22nd GillarooMay) and we are keen to drive entries for each of the three Health and Social Care categories. We would like staff and residents from daycare, residential and healthcare facilities to get on-board and showcase the beautifully kept gardens and cleanliness of their premises.

For this reason we have decided to share a few quotes from our judges regarding last year’s winners. Remember you still have time after entry submission to get outdoors and spruce up your facility, as judging will not commence until later this summer.

A few quotes from our judges;

Gillis Memory Centre, Armagh

“A wonderful oasis of peace and tranquillity for the residents, most of the garden features are an abundance of colour and summer flowering baskets and tubs – A real gem of a garden!”

Gillaroo Lodge Nursing Home, Larne

“This facility continues to improve its general standard every year and this year has added new areas.  The immense variety of flowers, plants and shrubs is very impressive. A truly outstanding facility cared for by the residents and staff.”

Knockbracken Day Centre, Belfast

“This facility has maintained the high standard it set last year.  It has a delightful small courtyard garden which is well-kept by enthusiastic day clients and staff.  A deserving winner!”

Adelaide House, Belfast

“The excellent garden at this facility is well used and appreciated by residents, with some new design features and a very high standard of maintenance. The resident who leads the ongoing development of this garden is to be commended – A joy to visit.”

Slievegrane, Downpatrick

“This facility has retained the high standards of recent years and is again a worthy winner.  The absence of litter, the extensive provision of colourful summer flowers and a number of design features highlighted the significant input by all the residents.  Well done!”

St. Luke’s Hospital, Armagh

“St Luke’s Hospital is a massive site, which is very impressive. It was very tidy and free from weeds and litter with new trees planted and old garages removed. This has helped the overall view, a truly deserving winner.”

‘Best Kept’ Spring Gardening Tips

Following a few stolen days of summer, spring is now well under way with the appearance of lots of fresh growth. Grass, plants and weeds have been sprouting up in towns, villages, yards and parks all Enniskillen 4over the country. The recent spike in good weather has, we’re sure, inspired many avid gardeners to embrace the sunshine and prepare their flower beds for the coming months.

Bearing in mind, each and every gardener aims to prolong the abundance of colour in their area for as long as possible we thought it would be a nice idea to share some of our ‘Best Kept’ spring gardening tips.

  • When preparing to cut the lawn for the first time of the season we would recommend not cutting it too close. Perhaps adjust the cutting height to approximately 2”/5cm
  • Running a garden rake through the lawn helps to aerate the grass by removing dead growth and moss
  • The last Sunday of April has traditionally been labelled ‘Dandelion Day’. Around this period of the season the profusion of ‘gold’ is very visible and it is a good time to dead head to prevent spreading
  • Although weeds can be referred to as ‘plants in the wrong place’ it’s best to extract them and tidy up the surrounding ground before planting for the new season
  • Lastly, our top tip is one for prolonging freshly cut flowers for the home, simply add two ice cubes or a spoonful of sugar to the water in the vase, this will allow the flowers to last longer.

Remember: A garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever!

How To Make Your Local Area Stand Out!

Ahoghill in Bloom 1With just over a week left to enter the ‘Best Kept’ Town, Village and Housing Area category, we thought it would be helpful if we gave everyone an insight into how to impress the judges and make your local area stand out.

Although the official closing date for Town, Village and Housing Area entries is next Friday 24th April, judging is not due to commence until later this summer. Meaning any eager volunteers have plenty of time to demonstrate their civic pride and to spruce up the local area.

Each year the judges travel to every town, village and housing area entered into the competition and assess the following areas;

  • The cleanliness of the streets including the absence of litter, fly posting, graffiti, vandalism and dog fouling;Loughgall 2011
  • The condition of buildings in the area including any derelict premises;
  • Is there advertising present? If yes, where it is situated and how is it maintained?
  • Presentation of the natural environment and any open spaces in the area;
  • The overall appearance of approach roads and public facilities, such as, public restrooms, litter bins, seating areas and car parks;
  • Is there strong evidence of community and business participation, if so, how have local residents and employees demonstrated their civic pride?

In 2014, we received some outstanding entries and we’d like to see even more this year! We’ve listed some quotes from our judges, explaining how last year’s winners really stood out!

‘Best Kept’ Large Village – Ahoghill

“The best way to describe this village is a “show piece” where well-presented villages are concerned!

“Community participation seems to be very much a factor in presenting the village so beautifully.  All properties in the village are very well kept and maintained and have not been allowed to become dilapidated. Open spaces are delightful to visit, there are lots of floral displays sponsored by local people which are carefully positioned throughout the village.”

‘Best Kept’ Small Village – Loughgall

“A clean village with no sign of litter, fly posting, graffiti, vandalism, dog fouling or inappropriate advertising.  All the ingredients needed for a winning village!  Community participation is of a very high level, and residents clearly take pride in their surroundings.  Open spaces, including in the park, are attractively maintained with an abundance of floral displays and tubs throughout the village.”

‘Best Kept’ Large Town – Antrim

“It is evident that huge efforts have been made to improve the appearance of this historic town.  There is ample evidence of civic and community partnership towards enhancing the town’s appearance.  Municipal planting on roundabouts, road junctions and along the main shopping area is superb and hanging baskets are in abundance enhancing the environment for residents and visitors alike.”

‘Best Kept’ Medium Town – Cookstown

“The approach roads into the town are all well maintained with tidy grass verges well interspersed with shrubs and floral display.  All the residential areas were very neat with their owners clearly taking pride in their appearance. Floral displays in the town are most colourful. Business people and residents both clearly take pride in the town and this is enhanced by the civic lead that the district council takes through its floral displays, trees and how it deals with vacant sites.”

‘Best Kept’ Small Town – Randalstown

“This is a very busy, attractive and welcoming town. There is ample evidence of community participation in maintaining a colourful and tidy environment with the provision of several new large planters and litter bins.  All open spaces were well attended and an excellent display of hanging baskets.”

If you think your local town, villages or housing area could do with a tidy up and want to get involved please call us on 02890 403681 or email

You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter @BestKeptAwards

The Importance of Eco-Friendly Dog Walking

Last weekend saw the clocks jump forward an hour, officially marking the start of British Summer Time. TheAlfie prospect of brighter nights and hopefully some dryer weather will, no doubt, encourage people to get outdoors for longer, more enjoyable walks with their four-legged friends. With this in mind, we felt it would be beneficial to remind everyone of the importance of being an eco-friendly dog walker and how volunteers can get involved to help keep our local areas free from dog fouling.

Dog fouling is a serious issue in our communities with primary school children and footballers being the most at risk. Dog fouling which has been on the ground for two weeks or more starts to develop worms which can cause toxacara canis, roundworm, salmonella and E-coli which can result in pneumonia, asthma and blindness.

In the UK, 52% of households have a pet with around 7 million being dog owners.  Northern Ireland has a great dog licencing system, meaning each dog can be traced back to their owner through a microchip. But the area we are still struggling to overcome is dog fouling, it is a bug bearer toFrank many community groups and can be found everywhere from our pavements to local parks and greenways.

To overcome this problem, we are encouraging community groups to get involved and help promote eco-friendly dog walking in our local areas. By simply making sure parks and greenways display dog fouling signage and contain an adequate number of bins for dog owners to dispose of the poo. Volunteers, who are also dog owners, may also wish to carry additional doggie bags to distribute to other dog walkers if requested and make sure, as a community, our beloved pets are leaving only paw prints!

How to Get Rid of Graffiti

Belfast GraffitiOne of the most common problems community volunteers face is ‘Graffiti.’ In some areas ‘street art’ can be a colourful addition to the culture of an area and Northern Ireland has a strong tradition of mural painting.  However, in many areas graffiti simply irritates residents and makes the place look untidy. With only a month until the deadline for entries to the Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ awards for towns, villages and residential area categories, we thought it would be a good idea to share our knowledge on how to remove graffiti.

Graffiti cleaningWith this in mind it is essential that you identify the surface type before attempting to remove the graffiti. Brick, stone, concrete, metal, wood, glass and plexi-glass are just some of the materials that you may find defaced in your local area. Each of these surface areas have a different texture and require different forms of treatment for removing graffiti. We have outlined a few essential tips to help you on your quest of tidying up your community of unwanted graffiti.


  1.  It’s easier to apply graffiti than to remove it! This will become all too familiar once you start working on it. The more recent the graffiti the easier it will be to remove. Don’t be afraid to put some elbow grease into it.
  2. For metal surfaces such as steel doors, mailboxes and lampposts, a liquid graffiti removal solvent, like De-Solv-it Graffiti Cleaner, works best. You will also require some light duty steel wool and a small spray bottle of solvent to allow you to scrub away the paint. We would also recommend a liquid cleaning product to wash down the area after the graffiti has been removed.
  3. When removing graffiti from a brick surface, we would recommend using a biodegradable emulsifier which should minimise the impact on the surface. This will still most likely leave a mark but should fade over time.
  4. Some areas covered in graffiti can be easily improved by simply painting over the affected and surrounding area. This treatment is ideal on surfaces such as wood, garage doors and some wall surfaces.
  5. Graffiti on glass can be removed using paint thinner and a cloth. Please dispose of the cloth responsibly after use.

Graffiti Removal Equipment Checklist

  • Liquid graffiti removal solvent
  • Clean cotton painters rags
  • Dust mask
  • Kitchen cleaner
  • Water spray bottle
  • Safety glasses
  • Bin bags
  • Paint, paintbrushes, rollers etc.
  • Pressure washer if applicable
  • Light duty steel wool

A Schools Lesson from Our Judges

Best Kept awards BOTB 3With the ‘Best Kept’ Schools entry deadline fast approaching (13th March), we thought it would be a nice idea to give everyone a heads up on what impressed the judges in 2014.

Our judges will soon be out and about, visiting schools across the province, looking for clear signs of pupil and staff involvement in the scheme.  It is pivotal that any participating school has a high level of cleanliness, demonstrating a strong sense of pride in their school/ environment/ premises/ grounds. Litter picking is a key area of the Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ awards and we will be making sure to note down any evidence of recycling measures in place and sufficient levels of waste bins.

We are also keenly interested in any of the school’s ongoing bio-diversity projects and efforts made to teach the younger generation about vegetable production, wildflowers, birds or insects. So make sure to point out any potential award winning projects on the day!

If you have any questions about entering the Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ awards contact us through Facebook or Twitter @BestKeptAwards

A few quotes from our judges;

Winner SEELB and ‘Best of the Best – ’St. Joseph’s Primary School, Carryduff

“A truly exceptional range of activities has been undertaken throughout the site.  The engagement with QUB and local businesses is to be commended.  They have a butterfly and bug hotel as well as a fish pond, which gives pupils a great sense of involvement and leads the way in environmental projects, every pupil in the school is involved in some way. A well-deserved winner!”

Winner Pre-Primary BELB – St. Peters School, Belfast

“The school has a nature area, including a splendid greenhouse made from recycled bottles.  This structure is really worth mentioning in detail because it is evident that a huge amount of effort went into creating it. It took the best part of a year to gather sufficient bottles, and get them into matching order, and then build the whole structure.  A magnificent effort!”

Winner Pre-Primary School WELB – Denamona Nursery School, Fintona, Co Tyrone

“This school has a very confined area but are making full use of every inch available. This is truly the best pre-school possible.  They have a mini farm on site with hens and lambs with full pupil participation.  In addition to, nesting blue-tits, a wildflower garden and a bird watching hut with binoculars for pupils. There is also a sensory and vegetable garden all labelled and weed free! There is also a bug hotel and a butterfly garden as well as a pond with solar powered pump.  Outdoor education is very high on the schools agenda.”

Winner Primary NEELB – Ballycraigy Primary School, Antrim

“What a pleasure it was to be shown around such a well-developed and much improved school with such an enthusiastic Eco Club.  The wild area at the bottom of the school was lovely, and was great to see this area being used in such a great way.  The vegetable plot to the rear of the school was brilliant!”

Winner Post Primary SELB – Lisanally Special School, Armagh  

“A truly inspirational school to visit, Home Economics classes use the vegetables grown outside, pupils are actively involved in recycling, one project uses shredded paper.  Pupils are in charge of all recycling and litter as well!”

Essential Equipment for Volunteering

Litter Picking Flickr Nic Dafis

Last week marked the start of the search for Northern Ireland’s ‘Best Kept’ towns, villages, housing areas, schools and health care facilities. Each year we are always enthused by the level of support the awards receive from individuals giving up their personal time to volunteer in their local area.

With this in mind, and the hopes of increasing the number of volunteers in each area to drive competitiveness and keep our country looking its best, we decided to help everyone out with an initial essential tools checklist.

Make sure to tweet us if we’ve left anything out! @BestKeptAwards

Health & Safety Equipment

Nitrile Gloves (Variety of sizes)
High Visibility Vests
Overalls/ Coveralls

Litter Pick Equipment

Litter Pickers (Adult & Child)
High Visibility Vests (Adult & Child)
Bag Hoops
Bin Bags
Nitrile Gloves (Hygiene purposes)

Gardening Equipment

Gardening Gloves
Handheld Fork

Best Kept launch

The Search is On for N.I.’s ‘Best Kept’

The search has now started for Northern Ireland’s best presented healthcare facilities, schools, housing areas, towns and villages as we launched the 2015 Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ Awards.

The ‘Best Kept’ Awards, which have been running for almost 60 years, aim to highlight and recognise outstanding community spirit and the dedication of individuals who volunteer their time to improve their environmental surroundings.

The 2015 competition was formally launched at Hillmount Garden Centre, Gilnahirk by our Chairman, Doreen Muskett MBE; Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency; John Laverty,  Retail Network Manager for Open+Direct Insurance and UTV’s Joe Mahon, who is a patron of the awards.

As usual, the judging panel will be paying particular interest to floral displays, grass roots environmental projects and an absence of litter and graffiti in the area with clear evidence of community participation. The first category to be judged will be the ‘Best Kept School’ Awards which have an entry deadline of 15th March, 2015 and will be judged in April.

Best Kept launch

John Laverty, Doreen Muskett and a pupil for last year’s Best Kept School.

Joe Mahon, Patron of the Open+Direct Insurance Best Kept Awards

Joe Mahon, Patron of the Open+Direct Insurance Best Kept Awards


Retail Network Manager for Open+Direct Insurance, John Laverty

Best Kept Awards launch

Doreen Muskett MBE, Chair of NIAC

Northern Ireland Amenity Council

Ken Powles from NIAC